Asaph’s frequent battles with the question of “Why?” are easily documented. “O God, why have You cast us off forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?” (Psalm 74:1). “Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand?” (Psalm 74:11). “How long, Lord? Will You be angry forever?” (Psalm 79:5). “Why have You broken down her hedges, so that all who pass by the way pluck her fruit?” (Psalm 80:12).
It is encouraging to know that Psalm 81 is written in a different key. It begins with the following exhortation: “Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song…” This composition gives God’s three-fold response to Asaph’s questions and leaves the thoughtful reader with a new “Why?” to wrestle with.
First, Jehovah recounts Israel’s deliverance from Egypt which He had accomplished. “I removed his shoulder from the burden; His hands were freed from the baskets. You called in trouble, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah” (vv. 6-7).
Next, He reminds Asaph and all his fellow Israelites of the fundamental terms of their covenant. “Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you! O Israel, if you will listen to Me! There shall be no foreign god among you; nor shall you worship any foreign god” (vv. 8-9).
Finally, Jehovah pinpoints the precise reason for their present calamity. “But My people would not heed My voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So, I gave them over to their own stubborn heart to walk in their own counsels” (vv. 11-12).
Israel’s history clearly proves that the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save, nor is His ear heavy that it cannot hear. It is Israel’s sins which have separated her from God.
The final words of the psalm are saturated with the heartbroken tears of God over His people’s present state. “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their adversaries; the haters of the Lord would pretend submission to Him, but their fate would endure forever. He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you” (vv. 13-16).
How often has God wanted to gather His children together and protect them from the calamity of their disobedience—as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings—but they were not willing!